TRENTON - In 2002, New Jersey became the first state in the nation to pass a law requiring all firearms retailers to sell "smart guns" instead of traditional handguns once the technology became available.
On Thursday, the Democratic lawmakers who spearheaded that effort acknowledged that it had backfired by roiling gun-rights groups and impeding the technology from coming to market.
So on Thursday, they introduced legislation they presented as a compromise: It would repeal the section of the law that would prohibit the sale of normal handguns but also require wholesale or retail dealers to offer and maintain an inventory of smart guns.
Also referred to as "personalized guns," weapons equipped with this technology can only be fired by those who have legally purchased them. The owner is identified by a fingerprint, for example, or the weapon can be activated via the owner's watch.
Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (D., Bergen) said the goal is to make guns "childproof"; there have been at least 223 incidents nationally this year in which someone age 17 or younger unintentionally killed or wounded another person, according to Everytown for Gun Safety.
The advocacy group says it tracks news reports of such incidents and reviews other public records to compile its data.
"Consumers deserve a choice," Weinberg said at a news conference Thursday, where she was joined by other lawmakers, clergy, and gun-safety advocates. "Our residents and people across the country should be able to purchase a gun that cannot be used by their children or anyone else but the owner."
Weinberg appeared on CBS's 60 Minutes on Sunday to discuss the 2002 law. The program featured a Maryland firearms dealer who had announced his plan to sell smart guns, only to receive death threats. The New Jersey law was seen by some gun-rights groups as an obstacle to gun ownership.
Gun-rights activists feared the manufacturing of smart guns would trigger the New Jersey law, thus banning the sale of other handguns in the state.
The National Rifle Association says it has gripes with the new legislation.
"While we're not opposed to research and development of 'smart gun' technology, we do oppose any government attempt to mandate the use or sale of 'smart gun' technology," NRA spokesman Lars Dalseide said in a statement.
Weinberg and Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) said they plan to pass the bill before the current legislative session ends in mid-January. The Assembly is also pushing the legislation.
A spokeswoman for Christie, a Republican running for president who has taken a tough stance against gun-control laws, declined to comment.